The beginning of an attempt to "go home."
|Chapter 1 – Going Home
Slim dismounted before crossing the last ridge. He let his horse freegraze on the few scraggly bits of edible grass while he sat in the shade of a large cluster of boulders called
"Castle Rocks." He took a long pull from his whiskey flask, rolled a cigarette and allowed himself to remember the countryside. Indulging his youthful memories was not something he often did, but on this occasion he hoped to prepare himself for what the next days might bring.
He remembered as a boy climbing this particular rock pile. He would climb to the top and be king over all he saw, the long valley made lush by the stream that meandered down its center. Beginning in the mountains and eventually finding home at the Missouri, Coyote Creek was the lifeline for countless creatures, not the least of whom were Slim and his family.
Slim had loved growing up here, and even now, 20 years later, something in his chest stirred simply being this close to home. And yet, he was reluctant to get back on his horse and make the final push.
Slim had left home under the most disagreeable of circumstances.
* * * * * * *
"I'll go to the top and be the lookout. You stay down here and watch the trail. Signal if anyone comes."
"Let me go with you this time, Jimmy. I'm big enough to get to the top."
"No, Danny. I couldn't make it until I was 10 and neither will you. Besides, somebody has to watch for the bad guys. That's your job."
Danny didn't know who the bad guys were, but he appreciated the fact that Jimmy gave him a job to do, even if he really did want to climb the rocks.
Jimmy always was told to look out for his younger brother and climbing Castle Rocks was one of the things a fifteen year old could do, but an eight year old could not. That was just a law of common sense. If anything happened to Danny, he'd get a whipping and that made no sense at all.
When Jimmy reached the top, he could see the entire valley. His family had been here since he could remember and his Dad's claim to the land was undisputed. Coyote Creek supplied enough water to meet their needs, to nourish a few acres of crops and feed their few animals with grass in the summer and hay throughout the winter. As Jimmy was getting old enough to understand his father's plans for the land, he admired the way their needs were met. Rarely did they want for food, warmth or shelter like some of the folks who had moved west without his Dad's good sense. Because of his father's farming skills, they didn't have to rely on the chance of finding game or being gone for long periods of time in search of roaming herds of animals.
From the upper end of the valley Jimmy could just make out a cloud of dust caused by riders in a hurry. He knew that Clay Burroughs owned the land upstream of his Dad's and he also knew that Burroughs had been trying to buy his Dad out for a long time. Once he had overheard the tail end of a conversation and it was anything but friendly.
"I'm telling you, McClelland. You won't ever get a better offer than that."
"And I'm telling you, Burroughs. You're welcome to come visit anytime you want, but the land's not for sale and if you threaten harm to my family, then your welcome is over."
When Jimmy asked his Dad about what he had heard, he was told that he was too young to understand, but that sometimes grown-ups disagreed about how things should be done, and he and Burroughs disagreed a lot about the land.
"Trust me, son. Burroughs and I are about as far apart as we can possibly get when it comes to owning property. Some people aren't happy with what they have and think having more of it is the answer. On the other hand are people who are happy with whatever they have. They know that life is short and they have to make the most of whatever's before them. The quality of what they have is more important than the quantity and so they give it their best shot every time."
"Someday this valley will be yours. I want . . ." There was a long silence during which Jimmy waited impatiently, but hardly dared to breathe. "I want you to be able to decide for yourself how you want to live your life and not be at the mercy of men like Burroughs."
When Jimmy saw the dust coming from Burrough's ranch, he scrambled down the boulders, nearly falling in the rush.
"Come on, Danny. We've got to get home fast."
"McClelland, this is my final offer. I'm going to get this land one way or another. You can accept my offer and move on with something in your pocket, or . . ."
"Don't take this as a threat. I promised not to touch your family and I won't. But I didn't promise not to build a dam on the creek in the upper valley. I'm going to get a resevoir on my land to take care of my growing herds and there's nothing you can do about it."
"Get out of here!"
"Sure. Sure. You've been warned. I just don't think it'll be a pretty sight watching your lovely family die as the creek dries up."
Once again Jimmy only got in on the tail end of the exchange.
"He can't do that, can he, Dad?"
"Jimmy, your Mom and I need to talk. Take Danny and go tend to the animals. I don't think they've been looked after proper while you've been off playing."
"But, Dad . . .?"
"Go, Jimmy. Do as you're told."
"Come on, Danny. We have to go take care of the animals."
"What's going on, Jimmy? Who were those men? Why is dad so angry?"
"Enough with your questions. Just do as you're told. That's all you gotta do."
"Jimmy? Why are you so angry? I just want to know what's going on."
So do I, Danny, so do I